Speaking out

PodiumIt is only within the last year that I have become a "public adoptee." I have been writing, talking and sharing my views about being a transracial/transnational adptee for years, but in the past year a bunch of projects I’d been working on all merged together. One of these projects is this blog.

If I write personal stories, everyone says, "Thanks for sharing such a personal story." If it’s a "Let’s all get along" post, I get lots of "Amens!"

But I’ll admit that every time I press the "publish" button for a new post that offers a critique, I brace myself for all the comments that I will receive. I will receive at least one from someone who thinks that I’m attacking adoptive parents.

When this happens, I find myself again wondering if I have to resort to commenting back that I don’t hate adoptive parents. Instead of the content of my post, the focus shifts to whether or not I’m calling out on adoptive parents.

My last post is a perfect example of this. I got called on for stereotyping adoptive parents.

Even though at no time did I say that these arguments were only spoken or written by adoptive parents.

In fact, many of them have been said by other transracial adoptees, and also
by those not personally connected to adoption. Some of these quotes are attributed to adoption social workers, or people whose friends/family
members had adopted. Some are just by John Q. Public.

The whole point of my essay is that people use these rhetorical strategies to avoid talking about the difficult aspects of transracial and transnational adoption. The language and rhetoric used in discussing adoption is an important thing to consider. The intent of the last post was not,
"oh, all adoptive parents say these things." Please read that post
again; there was only one sentence that referred to "my daughter" in
the entire post, and that is because it is a direct quote from an
adoptive parent (and it is a common sentiment written by adoptive parents and adoption agencies), not because I believe ALL adoptive parents say this.

I know there are some adoptive parents who do not
assume I’m attacking them. They  understand this is not about them, but about what their transracially or transnationally adopted
children might experience someday. And would you be surprised to know that I’ve learned some important things from adoptive parents? Things that made me step back and challenge my own assumptions?

It’s true – and it is because the dialogue does not resort to stereotypes and the kinds of arguments offered in my last post. 

Books like "In Their Own Voices" are great. Their "positive" stories offer so much to the discussion of adoption. But it would be just as mistaken to think their voices are the only ones, and discount other accounts and opinions just because it makes the reader more comfortable.

We focus so much on children and adoptive parents, and what I am trying so desperately to get across is that we children grow up. And as much as we want to protect them from any pain, many of them will come to a point where they a) want to connect with other transracially adopted adults (i.e. people like me) and b) might question their own adoption experience.

In the past year, I have been contacted by dozens of transracial
adoptees who have found my blog. They are all adults. And what they say
is almost a script. Statements like, I never really thought about my adoption/racial identity until . . . college/marriage/having children. And, I’ve always felt so isolated.
Most of these adoptees have good relationships with their adoptive
parents. Most of them love them to death and don’t "regret" their
adoptions. But all have in common a feeling of "where do I fit in" and
a sense of ambiguous loss, which I will discuss more in my next post.
Several have said things like, "my world is turning upside down."

They write to me because for the first time, someone has put into words
what they have felt but did not have the language for; or just
that perhaps their experiences resonated with what I wrote. These adoptees are only a small fraction of those out there, but knowing they’ve found something relatable has reinforced my belief that my voice, as critical as it can be at times, is the reason I continue to blog.

When I was 30 years old, I was a "happy, adjusted adoptee." There were many things about my adoption experience that were negative, and many that were positive. I just never told anyone about the negative. I did the adoptee version of the hustle and jive for other folks. You know, telling them what they wanted to hear while inside, I was cringing at my own words. You know what changed? I met other Korean adoptees. Know what they said? They ‘d had the same experiences I had growing up; the same thoughts, the same feeling of walking in two worlds and fitting in with neither, the same racial incidents at school, church and homes. They were trying to find the balance between their adoptive parents and their own personal journey. Protecting their parents feelings, or being true to their own.

Many of you know that I am a social worker. Most of you probably do not know that I work in the field of adoptions.
I work for a public child welfare agency, working with children in the
foster care system who are in need of adoptive families. That means I
work with prospective adoptive parents who are looking to adopt.

The reason I am critical at times is because we are dealing with children who have experienced tremendous loss in their life. I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss; we need to have our eyes wide open to what is happening around us in the field of adoption because we are talking about our society’s most vulnerable people.

So yes, it may hurt adoptive parents’ feelings to know that I think of the children and their needs as a higher priority than theirs. I am not going to apologize for that and here is the reason why.

Two of my foster care kids were removed from their first mother because of neglect (chemical dependency issues) but they were not abused –  and adopted into a home where they were terribly physically and emotionally abused for six years before child protection removed them. Several others on my case load were in pre-adoptive placements that disrupted (meaning the adoptive parents decided at not to adopt, after the kids had lived with them several months for the purpose of adoption).

I believe that it is the responsibility of the social work profession to do a better job for these children.

I believe strongly in educating adoptive parents about the risks and the realities of adoptive parenting, and I think post-adoption services to adoptive parents/families are very poor in this country. I am working on that end as well. We can’t have children in good homes unless we work with adoptive parents. It does not make sense that I would advocate for children without advocating for adoptive parents as well.

My supervisors know that I have this blog. My colleagues also know. As a "public adoptee" I have to be aware of my actions and how I am perceived in both my professional and personal spheres. My fellow colleagues in my agency know that I am one to critique practice. I’m not just critiquing adoptive parents – I also critique my own agency’s practice, and that of other agencies and the state child welfare policies that govern how we work for society.

Do you now think differently of my critiques? Knowing that I place children in adoptive families, and many of them transracially? If I stereotyped adoptive parents, do you think I could sleep at night knowing the children I work for are being placed in homes where I secretly thought poorly of the adoptive parents? Does knowing my credentials and my professional career make you think of my critiques in a different way?

Because they shouldn’t.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

20 thoughts

  1. Very good post. KEY point is that the social work profession has failed first moythers, adoptees and adoptive parents miserably for generations. No offense intended — I am speaking of the professionas a whole. In my case, our social worker made no mention of race as an issue (our daughter was coming from China) did not counsel us on post adoption grief, did not help us thorugh a VERY difficult 6 month transition, I could go on and on and on. You keep up the good work because you cannot judge your success by how many you touch but by how deeply you affect those that you do touch.

  2. As someone adopting from the foster care system I’m interested in hearing more about this area. However I also understand you’re very limited in what you can discuss due to confidentiality. I read one social worker blog regularly — Process at http://ssecorp.blogspot.com/ — but she is totally and very carefully anonymous.
    I always like to hear more about reform ideas in the system. The most depressing thing is that all the abuse stories in the mainstream media I read are so evenly distributed, children getting abused by biological parents, foster/adoptive, abused in group homes, abused when placed with relatives… the only common thread is workers with too many casefiles. It’s hard to get a bearing on where to start advocating for reforms. For example I used to think group homes were all sinkholes of despair but after reading some foster care blogs realized there were good ones as well as bad ones; in other words, there is no one size fits all solution. Generally speaking, what are some of the ideas you like, and you see working, for better solutions, better funding, keeping families together in the first place, attracting more diverse parents and preparing them better, lowering disruption rates?

  3. I’m thinking you have
    a very difficult job
    and it’s obvious that
    you give a lot of yourself
    for the benefit of children.
    That in itself is admirable.
    I so agree with both Sue and
    D-SL, you are articulate and
    you have deeply affected my family.
    You do all this with a warmth
    compassion, and intelligence
    that is rare to find.
    I wish you could have been my
    social worker.

  4. I hope I didn’t come across as though I thoughts the stories from “In Their Own Voices” were more valid than those of other transracial adoptees. They aren’t, but for me they offer a counterbalance to many other tra stories I’ve read. I breathe a huge sigh of relief when I read a story that basically states – my life wasn’t perfect being raised in a white family….but it was better than no family….my parents are my advocates…I can tell them anything…and so on. I pray that my kids look back on their experience that way…I’ll certianly do everything to make that possible.
    And, I certainly DO NOT think you owe anyone an apology for putting the needs of kids first.
    If you could ever post about how you help to prepare prospective adoptive parents, I would really be interested in reading it and learning how things are changing. I think the agencies I’ve used have done very very little to prepare me and it’s taken me, oh, about a good four or five years of learning and preparing myself and I’m still learning.

  5. The definition of stereotype from The Free Dictionary
    1. A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.
    2. One that is regarded as embodying or conforming to a set image or type.
    3. Printing A metal printing plate cast from a matrix molded from a raised printing surface, such as type.
    Unfortunately, online discourse by many many adoptive parents regarding adoption and adoptees is very stereotyped. It’s as if there is a template that autogenerates all the statements you listed in your last post. And yet, the rhetoric is seldom questioned by AP’s, particularly when we talk amongst ourselves.
    The question is: are you stereotyping or simply naming the reality of being at the receiving end of these questions and comments which devalue and negate your reality, your journey, your questions? If we can’t even let you vent about how tired the rhetoric gets, can we listen to your responses? I’m sure you wonder.
    Good for you for not backing down!

  6. It personally means a lot to me that the children you advocate for aren’t going to slip through the goddamn cracks in this country’s system. Who better than someone who can see past the pedestals? I am damn proud to know you.

  7. “We focus so much on children and adoptive parents, and what I am trying so desperately to get across is that we children grow up.” Thank you so much for this line. It is what I’m thinking so often in my mind when I see prospective parents so excited and waiting for their “little princess”, closets already packed with clothes and shoes… These are children, not dolls, and they will grow up into independent thinking adults! I know these parents will absolutely adore their baby, but how will they feel when their baby grows up and starts questioning their own personal histories and identities? How are parents preparing themselves for that? As always thanks for food for thought.

  8. If possible, I’d also like to learn more about some of the lessons learned about foster parenting… I know that we are not yet in the right place to do this but, as you know, this is one of the opportunities I may pursue when LN is a bit older. I think, if there’s need for such parents, we would be perfect for ‘transitional parenting’ as in, take care of kids while their biological parents get back on their feet – that Bakersfield Chinese couple story made me think…
    I agree with you that the children come first – and I also wouldn’t apolgize for thinking so. You know you’re one of my real-life heros, right?

  9. D’oh! I meant Nashville (I said Bakersfield, didn’t I? Hm, wonder whose blog I just came from… :-D) – you know, where this couple had a hell of a time getting their daughter back…

  10. HM,
    Reading about your credentials doesn’t change my already positive opinion of your critiques, but it sure makes me glad you are in the world.

  11. Hi, Jae-Ran. I’m afraid that it might have been my comment yeterday that is being addressed here. If I’m wrong, please attribute it to my finely-tuned paranoia. But if I’m right, please accept my apologies. I honestly didn’t feel attacked and am sorry if I gave that impression!
    You definitely did not attribute those statements to adoptive parents, and if I gave the impression that you did, it was unintentional. However, it’s not too much of a stretch to acknowledge that adoptive parents are often stereotyped in this way; that was my interpretation of the post. It also seemed like a good example of the kind of stereotype referenced in the “characteristics of an ally.”
    I appreciate this blog, and the Gazette, for many reasons. You’re honest. You are a tireless advocate for your community. You’re eloquent. You put adoptees first – the children you help to place, children like mine who grow up so fast. My “baby” is a sophomore in HS – and my first will be heading to college in the fall, yet it seems like they arrived yesterday. My children have gained immeasurably from what I’ve learned from you and all of the adoptees I know in real life and online who have been willing to share their experiences.
    Again, many apologies.

  12. Unfortunately,you are correct. I think that the focus is on the adults and not on the children and their needs. So often the process seems to be what the parents want and not what the children need. Both in domestic and international adoption. Why is it, for instance, that a-parents are not required to do something as simple as research. Questionaires which ask even the most basic of information like:
    1. Where is the nearest restaurant that serves ethnic food which your may be familiar with?
    2. What local groups are available in which your child could mentor with people that are of the same ethnicity?
    3. If your child is having a difficult transition list the name of a therapist who works with children with attachment difficulties.
    4. What will you as a family be doing to keep your child’s culture alive and meaningful for them?
    5. Find out how a certain holiday is celebrated in your child’s home country.
    6. What cultural opportunities are available for your child both locally and nationally?
    7. Where can you go to learn what you need to know about taking care of hair that is different than your own?
    I know, a little simplistic and yes adoption is much more than just eating in a Chinese restaurant once a year. But I am always amazed at the number of a-parents who have no clue to even basic questions concerning their child’s ethnicity and country of origin. Or where they can go if they are having problem. Or where their child can go to meet other people who have walked their path.
    I think that if you adopt transracially that you have certain obligations to your child. And yet often it seems as if a-parents refuse to recongize those obligations. So often I listen to a-parents and I just shake my head and wonder, “How did they ever get approved in the first place?” And then I remember that the system needs them in order to survive.

  13. there are many thoughts that i will share with you offline, but i want to comment here and say you inspire me. you’ve been this voice of familiarity for what i tend to feel but am often times too lazy to write about. you’ve opened yourself up to criticism simply by saying anything about adoption – as an adoptee, a parent and as a social worker who works in the field. many people wouldn’t go where you have, but you – you’re different and i hope you know that’s a wonderful asset to the entire adoption community. though i’m biased, i think it’s most important to the transracial adoptee community because most of us have and do feel an “ambiguous loss” which is not addressed nor discussed enough. thank you again.

  14. Jae Ran,
    I’ve been reading your blog for about 6 months now as we go through the adoption process; and we are now waiting for our son to come home from Korea. Although I didn’t see the comments that prompted this post, I want to say don’t stop, don’t feel the need to qualify. The fact that you are an SW working in adoption is wonderful, but even if you you were the furthest thing from it, your points are so valid and so important for everyone involved in the adoption process. To be honest, sometimes I get very depressed reading your posts, but it gave us alot to think about as we made the final decision to proceed.
    Our agency is wonderful and they do provide much education on the adoptee experience throughout, as well as offering lifelong support for adoptees – BUT – they don’t provide the insight you do. I think your blog should be requird reading for all AP’s period. Keep it up – there are many of our here who appreciate all you are doing.

  15. Jae Ran:
    Although we’ve never met (hope to one day, though!), my husband, my friends, and my parents know very well the tremendous impact and influence you’ve had in my life.
    I am one of those adoptees you speak about who didn’t possess the words. My feelings, my emotions, the physical experiences I had regarding my adoption were all so real and visceral, but yet cognitively, I couldn’t express what I felt was such a constant negotiation of attempting to reconcile two very different lives.
    Though I’m a newbie to the world of blogging, I too, have received my fair share of “not-love” mail from APs. As an AP myself, it is absolutely mind-boggling for me to try and understand where this sense of over-entitlement and uber-inflated sense of id comes from regarding adoptive parenting. Seriously. I struggle so much to understand. Maybe it’s fear? Maybe it’s denial? Maybe it’s over-confidence? Whatever it is, adoptees deserve better.
    Your voice is being heard and is impacting so many more than you realize.
    Thank you. A million times, thank you.

  16. I wished I’d found a blog like this years ago.
    “When I was 30 years old, I was a “happy, adjusted adoptee.” There were many things about my adoption experience that were negative, and many that were positive. I just never told anyone about the negative.”
    I was well into my 30’s before I could give voice to my negative adoption experiences. Society had made it clear that there was no place for such discussions. Luckily, I did find you and several others who’d already carved out a niche for us. This blog and the work you do is invaluable to the adoption community and most importantly to the next generations of adoptees.

  17. Jae Ran,
    I am in total awe of you and your command of the written word and your ability to express yourself freely, without trying to change or justify yourself to the criticism of others.
    You are so inspiring! 🙂

  18. Well I just read this post and the last one and the blog of the AP with the question about stereotyping and being an ally. It’s a lot to sort out and I may not be following the main thread, but I can see what she means. Coming to blogs from spending a lot of time reading adoption forums, I can say that all the tactics you mentioned for stopping discussion are used constantly by parents in adoptions or seeking adoptions. Just trying to have a discussion about race/ethnicity/transracial adoption with APs and PAPs you run directly into all those statements. I am one AP who came through all that ignorance and I hope learned enough to get past a lot of it. The stereotypes come from everywhere. Agencies, families, friends, churches, media, ourselves, all the books we read as children, adoptees we know, etc. You have to be pretty stubborn to get over/through/under that wall. So it is no surprise that an AP who tries to get to the truth would respond to your post by applying it to her personal experience. Not that she felt reactive, but that she related to having heard all those things and wondered where the stereotyping fits in. We have to ask if we are stereotyping ourselves, and being stereotyped, and doing it to others….. I think her question about how to respond to being stereotyped is valid. Maybe you can address it in another post?
    I greatly admire you and your writing, BTW and I have learned a tremendous amount from you just in the last six months of reading your blog. It is entirely possible that I may react to things you say with a lot of ignorance and defensiveness, but that isn’t where it ends, usually. I have so much to unlearn it can be a painful process. Thanks for helping us all along.

  19. I think one thing you should realize is that because of your more broad experience and perspective, a lot more of us within the sphere containing adoption, parenting, race, etc. have a very keen interest in what you have to say. And a lot of respect for what you say.
    Open dialog IS rough. Not everyone is going to agree with what everyone else says. But that is exactly what we all need.
    I am sad that is seems to be so hard to truly be open. For all sides to such a complex issue. But it is. The last comment to that earlier post I just read is incredibly ironic because it is a pretty good way to shut down the same sort of discussion, except coming from the other end of it.
    I have never read an unreasonable word you have written. I think you have a lot to offer all of us. Please don’t assume what I wrote was an “attack.” Just an ordinary reaction. All of us are capable of being defensive, none of us need to be.

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